‘You cannot be fighting against God while trying to have peace on earth’

Today's Zaman: Recently there has been a trend in Europe and America among certain writers, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, of very direct criticism -- and even hostility -- toward religion. What do you see as the significance of this trend?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Many think this is the swan song of Western atheism. That is, now with religion becoming stronger, these secularists never imagined that. Everyone was taught at school that the flow of history is away from religion and toward secularism, and the secularists believed that they had already won the day. But then you have this tremendous revival of interest in religion in the second half of the 20th century. … So these people come along, who are usually very haughty people and they're not really that intelligent, but what they're attacking is the simple faith of people that is coming back, what they call fundamentalism. Therefore, they posit their own intelligence against a sort of "simpleton faith," considering their opponents to be stupid -- with themselves being the "brights," which is what Dawkins calls himself. I think it's an unfortunate phenomenon. I don't think that it's going to be very long lasting, but it will have a role in polarizing more and more the landscape of Western thought.

Today's Zaman: One of the common objections that these authors voice is the idea that religion is the prime, if not only, cause of violence in the world. All conflict, they argue, can be reduced to some matter of religious disagreement. Similarly, others have argued that the main conflict in the world is being fought by the West against Islam, which is perceived as a fundamentally violent religion. What is the connection or relationship between religion and violence?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: To be human is to be placed in a world of violence. Every time you inject your child with an injection against the flu, you are committing violence against the germs, if you look at it from their point of view. Let's not talk about sentimentality. Violence in that sense is part and parcel of life. Life, in order to grow, has to face violence. It's remarkable that, amidst this violence, there's so much beauty and peace and harmony in the world. That's what's really remarkable. Now, whatever distinguishes a human being from other human beings is a source of violence. First of all, two human beings: If there is only a certain amount of food, one will become violent against the other. There needs to be a higher principle to bring peace to them. …

Now, throughout history, what has defined the identity of the human being, from the individual to larger aggregates of societies, has been religion, with no exception. ... In every case, therefore, those religious identifications have, in a sense, been both the cause of what would have been there anyway -- that is, violence within the various groups -- and the force that tried to overcome that. That's why you have both. …However, there is something deeper involved. Religion can be destroyed, but man cannot live in a vacuum. So what took the place of religion for these people was an ideology that played the role of religion. That is, communism on the one hand and Nazism and fascism on the other. And so we are already witness to what happens -- that is, tremendous violence -- without religion in the traditional sense, but with pseudo-religion that takes the place of religion.

As for Islam, the calling of Islam the religion of violence by a civilization that has killed hundreds of times more Muslims than Muslims have killed Christians is really hypocrisy of the worst kind. … This is very obvious. … No society wants to be in prison. No society wants to be colonized. When the movement against the colonial powers began in the Islamic world, different things were tried, such as nationalism and liberalism, and none of them really fully succeeded. … What instrument was left with which to fight against Western domination, including that of the so-called elites in society who had the same Arabic names but were also Western in the deeper sense of the term? What was left? It was religion. And so, from the early 20th century … movements began that tried to make use of Islam in order to face the situation.

Obviously, having done that, Islam becomes identified by those who do not want to leave the Islamic world, those who do not want to be defeated, with violence. And this is a very powerful form of propaganda to use against Islam and people use it all the time. Look, for example, at the tremendous amount of violence done in Gaza. You never hear people talk about Jewish violence, or Judaism as a source of violence. I have respect for Judaism as a religion of God -- or Christianity -- so I'm not happy that people should call it that, but Islam has the privilege of being the only religion in the world about which you can say anything negative you want and nobody says anything.

Read complete interview here.

2 did criticisms:

Shaheryar Ali said...

Mr Nasser forgot one little thing, Dawkins didnt proclaimed crusades from the white house nor did Sam Harris gave fatwa of Jihad from Tora Bora

Irony is that Syed Hussein Naser kept serving that monster Shah of Iran who judged advancement of a nation by the ration of porn that nation produced!! HH Reza Shah Pehlvi was neither a good muslim nor a good human but Naser didnt had any moral objection serving that man who was killing and torturing people. Nasser's thought is that intoxicated myticism which Iqbal condemned. A reactionary who gives lectures on morality but who himself depicts moral relativism

Waqas said...

Nice article (Y)

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